The Sourdough Starter
by Elizabeth Bluth, 3.24am November 10th 2021
Peter moved in with her as soon as the lockdown started. “It’s better this way,” he told her. “Your roommates are out of town; we’ll have the place to ourselves. And we’ll be together.” So they hunkered down together to wait out the city-wide shutdown.
By week two, baking bread had become Rebecca’s religion. It gave her a sense of purpose, of accomplishment. She would sneak out of bed early in the morning to feed, knead, and whisper encouragements to her sourdough starter, coaxing him in to a healthy and robust ball of yeast she called Adam. She baked loaf after loaf until the sour scent of baking dough lingered throughout their apartment at all hours of the day.
“Have you considered baking other kinds of bread?” Peter once asked her, shoving another chunk of sourdough into his mouth as he worked from their dining room table, the glint of the computer screen reflected in his thick glasses.
“I could never betray Adam like that,” Rebecca said, feeding leftover crumbs from the day’s loaf to their cat, Louie.
A month had gone by and another was nearly gone as well when Rebecca shuffled out of bed to feed Adam, only to find a man-sized loaf of bread laying on the kitchen counter. When he saw her, he sat up and held his arms out to her.
She stifled a scream as the animate bread-man moved toward her and clutched her robe tighter around her own doughy body. “Adam?” she asked in a whisper.
The bread-man nodded.
Rebecca felt her shoulders relax a bit. “But how?”
He shrugged. He knew as much as she. One moment he’d been a moist starter in a bowl, the next he’d been lying on her counter, full-sized and awake.
At first, Adam’s presence was a bit of relief for Rebecca and Peter. After over a month of having only each other and the cat for company, they were hungry for another companion. Peter was beginning to miss the fresh air in his own apartment and the ability to leave the toilet seat up whenever he so chose. Rebecca missed the quiet she and Louie used to enjoy in the mornings, lying on her pillows in the soft sunlight of the dawn, before Peter’s constant snoring disrupted those small moments of peace. Now each of them had someone to distract the other.
Adam spent his days sitting on the couch, a thick arm wrapped over Rebecca’s shoulder and Louie in his lap, watching re-runs of old sitcoms on TV while Peter took work calls in the bedroom. At night, he and Peter played cards at the dining room table, Peter nursing a glass of scotch each night, Adam kindly topping him off whenever his glass ran dry.
As the weeks dragged on, however, Rebecca could sense a new tension growing between Peter and Adam. every time Adam touched her waist to ease around her in their tiny kitchen, every time he tucked her into bed, or fed the cat for her, Peter’s expression darkened. Adam was too sweet, too attentive for Peter.
Still, he was the perfect houseguest, never too intrusive, always helpful, except for the trail of crumbs that he left wherever he went, but Rebecca was happy to forgive him this one tiny flaw.
A bit sloppy himself, Peter also had no issues with the crumbs until he found crumbs in and around his laptop. Unable to type and afraid of how badly his computer was damaged, Peter finally snapped.
“Look what you’ve done!” he shouted, barreling into the living space.
Louie, who’d been asleep on Adam’s lap, quickly scampered off to hide, ears glued back to his head.
“What?” Rebecca shouted back.
“He,” Peter pointed exaggeratedly at Adam, “has destroyed my computer with his…crumbs!”
Adam held up his hands in a submissive manner. Rebecca gave him a comforting look and put her hand across his chest, leaning forward towards Peter. This confrontation had been boiling for weeks.
“You’re just jealous of him.”
“I am not jealous of that, that thing.” Peter’s face was bright red, and spit punctuated each of his consonants in his rage. “This weird “relationship” you seem to be building together here is insane, Rebecca. You can’t have feelings for a piece of bread.”
Rebecca stood up abruptly. “He’s not just a piece of bread!”
“Yes, he is!” Peter leaned down over Adam, grabbed his arm, and ripped a piece of it off, stuffing it into his mouth.
Rebecca shrieked and started crying.
“He’s fucking bread, Rebecca!” He chewed with his mouth open to make his point.
Rebecca reached for Adam, wanting to make sure he was alright, but when he reached for him, there was nothing there. Adam had launched himself at Peter and the two were wrestling around on the floor, Peter still chewing loudly on the piece of bread that had once been attached to Adam’s left arm. Peter managed to roll on top of Adam for a moment and Rebecca tried to grab him around the waist and pull him off, but Adam quickly flipped him back over, lodging the piece of bread Peter had been chewing halfway down his throat. He started choking, the red of his face draining to a deep purple but Adam hovered over him, pressing all the weight of his thick, yeasty body onto the man’s chest.
“Adam, stop. Oh my god, stop!” Rebecca grabbed Adam’s shoulder, and at her touch, he shifted his weight, but it was too late. Peter was dead.
They disposed of the body quickly and discreetly. Rebecca knew the police would never believe that her boyfriend had died by fighting a giant piece of bread. Adam knew they’d try to pin it on her, and so together they agreed to never speak of Peter again.
And for Rebecca this proved easier than she had thought at first. With Peter gone, Rebecca no longer had to hide her feelings for Adam. He was a sourdough man, she thought, somewhat crusty and flaky, but ultimately sturdy and dependable, much more dependable than Peter had ever proved to be. She invited him to move from the couch to her bedroom to sleep beside her at night. She knew he didn’t sleep per se but she liked the feeling of waking up next to him.
Louie too seemed more relaxed now that Peter was no longer stomping through the apartment during one of his moods or talking loudly on a business call in the bedroom. Louie had taken to curling up on the pillow next to Adam’s face most nights, licking up the leftover crumbs that would fall from his head each time he moved.
One morning, as the three of them lay basking in the early morning sun, only half awake, Louie went to lick Adam’s face only to come away hacking. Adam’s face was too brittle, too dry. The cat leapt of the bed in search of water.
Rebecca smiled at Adam and shook her head. “What a silly cat,” she said. But a ball of worry formed in the pit of her stomach. She wasn’t ready for him to go stale.
As the days wore on, Adam’s lethargy and stiffness became too much to ignore. When they sat down at the dinner table together that weekend, Adam pointed out the obvious to her. There wasn’t much time left. He was going stale and soon she’d need to dispose of him too.
“No,” she told him. “I’ll find a way to keep you alive. I’ll find a way to make this work.”
He held her face in his hands and gently kissed her on the forehead.
"There has to be a way,” she said, more to herself than to him.
She thought of nothing else the rest of the day and all through the night, even dreaming about ways to keep Adam alive. When she awoke in the morning, she thought she’d figured it out. She returned to her starter, the way she’d first met Adam, and she began to bake again.
She kneaded and fed it a few days more until the starter was large enough for what she needed. She mixed in the rest of the ingredients and molded the dough into the shape of a woman, hoping against hope that this would work.
Hours later, her bread was ready, and when she pulled it out of the oven, a sentient bread-woman stood before her. Rebecca felt the burning behind her eyes that meant she would cry if she wasn’t careful.
“Adam,” she called to the bedroom.
He walked into the kitchen and stopped, shaking his head. This couldn’t be what she wanted.
“It is, though. I want you to be happy, I want you alive, and I think she can help.” Rebecca nodded at the new bread-woman, and stepped back so she could approach Adam, the scent of her warm sourdough body encompassing all three of them.
Adam took her hand as she approached, and she reached up to touch his cheek. He turned to Rebecca and thanked her, too emotional to say much more.
Rebecca nodded. “Of course. I’ll give you two some time alone.” She scooped Louie up from between her feet and locked herself in the bedroom for the rest of the day. When she finally opened her door, Adam and his bread-woman had left. A pile of breadcrumbs sat on the kitchen counter with a note underneath. It was from Adam, of course, filled with his gratitude and his sorrow at having to leave her, but she could see even in his polite and profuse language that he had already moved on.
Louie let out a poignant meow.
She laughed. “I know you’re hungry, little man. What do you want for dinner?”
He rubbed against her leg and made another terse meow.
“I agree,” she said. “No more bread.”
She poured him some kibble and went to the kitchen to prepare dinner for herself alone.